Big emotions & little people

When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm instead of joining their chaos.

Imagine being a small child & having to deal with all these emotions around them, when us as adults often battle to make sense of the world? You put some of her favourite snacks in a bowl for her, yet she screams as if the world is ending. You walk into her room when she has just woken up & you would swear it’s a monster that just walked in. You pick her up from school where one day she will run into your arms & the next she runs in the opposite direction. Sound familiar? The reactions of these little humans is a total normal reaction to how they are feeling & how they experience things.

Dealing with separation anxiety

Many children experience separation anxiety when they are younger. For us personally, Mianke started at around 9 months. She would cry if I left the room, if I gave her to hubby, or if she just couldn’t see me. She was specially bad around other people & battled with leaving me around strangers. Separation & stranger anxiety are quite normal in toddlers. Stranger anxiety is when children get upset around people they don’t know or even don’t see often. Both are normal during early childhood & is often a phase that goes away. At around 7/8 months, babies learn to crawl or are crawling which is a huge milestone so they are dealing with that new development. They are also becoming more aware of who their caregivers are & therefore are able to distinguish between a stranger & someone they know. They are also aware if mom or dad leave the room – even just to go to the loo. It can be really overwhelming, not only for baby, but for mom too, as mom is usually the go-to at this stage.

The best tip I can give at this stage is patience & understanding. You are their safe space. If, as a toddler or baby, they cling to your hip around new people, or just other people – this is normal. They feel overwhelmed by the new faces & even just by life in general. They are still trying to deal with everyday emotions. If a family member wants to hold the baby & you end up having a kicking, screaming baby – rather take baby back & try again another time. It’s so hectic to watch them thrashing just because someone wants to hold them. Imagine being held by a stranger & not being strong enough to get away.

(Read more on this in a previous post: )

Oh the emotions!

The emotions of a 2 year old – oh my! I have a very emotional baba. Crying for no reason, or for something we deem to be so simple – is the norm at this stage. It has been for quite a while. I can’t believe how such a little person has such strong emotions. One minute I can have a super happy little girl & the next she is wailing with a broken heart over her toy that is stuck in the box. Real tears & all. These little ones are learning their place in the world & developing a personality while teething, learning to walk & talk & experiencing changes such as going to school & meeting family. Imagine going through all of this while not being able to express how you feel about it all. It must be tough & sometimes all they need is to be allowed to cry over their dinosaur that won’t stand up straight or to be held for a minute (because that really is all she will let me).

They are also learning what is right & wrong, so they push their boundaries to see how far they can go. They just need guidance & patience. Telling them no can be quite something. We try & explain WHY, but at just under 2 years old, she doesn’t always understand why. I must admit – little Mi really does listen when told no. She won’t carry on doing it – but she will let you know how she feels about being told no. When we see challenging behaviour, it could mean that your child is still struggling to express how he or she feels about something & the best way they find is to shout, cry or throw something – yes throw something.

It can be overwhelming for parents

We should try not let this emotional outburst steer us away from setting boundaries. This is the time the foundation is laid for these tiny humans. As hard as it is, they need to be taught right & wrong – otherwise they will never know, or it will be too difficult later on in life. We also need to let them feel what they feel. A child should never be forced to feel a certain way or be told their feelings are not valid. A 2 year old doesn’t have to like the lady at the shop touching her hand, or the friend trying to play when she just isn’t feeling okay. Being emotional isn’t a weakness. Strong-willed children should be allowed to be strong-willed. It’s important to teach them about emotions. “Why are you sad” is much better than “just stop crying for nothing”. There is a difference between a meltdown & a tantrum. A tantrum is an angry outburst & usually can be controlled by the child. A meltdown is a reaction to something overwhelming.

That being said, even though they may feel what they want to, we need to teach them how to behave appropriately. We need to let them know that it’s not okay to throw or break something out of frustration, or to be nasty. “You are allowed to be angry with your friend, but you may not hit her”. It’s tough – it’s honestly so tough some days. To have a little one crying for a reason you can’t seem to find, over and over. But we just need to be there for them – to be their big emotional blanket until they feel better again. Often in 2 minutes they are playing like nothing ever happened! Oh, these complex little beings! We also need to be aware of how we react to certain things, as they look at us as an example on how to act. This quote really was quite touching:

When the milk is splattered all over the floor, and those little eyes are looking at you for your reaction, remember what really matters. It takes 5 minutes to clean up spilled milk. It takes much longer to clean up a broken spirit.

These complex little beauties

At the end of the day, us as adults don’t even always have it all together some days. We also battle to deal with certain things – some more than others. But it’s important to acknowledge the feelings of the children & guide them in the right direction. It’s important to teach them right from wrong, & how to deal with what they feel & experience. I find it so amazing that such a small person can have such big feelings about life. These are beautiful, complex beings we have & I just love that to bits.


  • Cristina

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I have a 2 and a half year old little boy who can be quite emotional at times. But it’s normal and healthy.

  • Jess

    I find my biggest struggle in parenting is trying to remember that they are learning EVERYTHING and that their emotions over the small things feel just as big as mine feel over “big” things. This: “It takes 5 minutes to clean up spilled milk. It takes much longer to clean up a broken spirit” is everything.

  • Sara

    Great post! It’s difficult to maintain perspective in the crazy moments. But we need to try. These are the moments our kids remember how we react.

  • Chelsea ScholtZ

    I loved this post (especially the part about separation anxiety). So thoughtful and I definitely learned a thing or two. Thank you.

  • kim

    Yes! Toddlers are not just throwing tantrums; they aren’t trying to give you a hard time. They are communicating a need, whether it makes sense to us or not! Grace and understanding can make this difficult stage a bit easier to handle. 🙂

  • Brandy

    I love this so much! Sometimes I can be so hard not to get frustrated and let that frustration boil over onto your kids. Thank you for sharing

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